Clinical trials in autism spectrum disorder: evidence, challenges and future directions

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Abstract

Purpose of review

The purpose of this manuscript is to review the evidence generated by clinical trials of pharmaceuticals in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), describe challenges in the conduct of such trials, and discuss future directions

Recent findings

Clinical trials in ASD have produced several compounds to adequately support the pharmacological treatment of associated symptom domains: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (methylphenidate, atomoxetine, and alpha agonists), irritability/aggression (risperidone and aripiprazole), sleep (melatonin), and weight gain associated with atypical antipsychotic use (metformin). However, there is no evidence yet to support the routine use of pharmaceuticals for the treatment of core symptom domains. Challenges in the field include biological heterogeneity within ASD, lack of biomarkers that clarify biological heterogeneity or predict response to treatment, lack of data across the lifespan, and suboptimal outcome measures.

Summary

Several compounds have evidence for the treatment of co-occurring symptoms in children and youth with ASD, although pharmacological interventions for core symptoms are still lacking. Identifying the various biologies underling ASD and developing biomarkers that stratify biologically homogeneous populations are both necessary to realize the promise of precision medicine in ASD.

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